Students, faculty and staff can continue to reduce the amount of waste generated on the University of Michigan campus by making their next event zero waste.
Offered by the Office of Campus Sustainability, the Zero Waste Program aims to divert as much waste from the landfill as possible through recycling and composting while also eliminating waste generation on campus.
“I’m proud to work with our community to make the University of Michigan a leader in environmental sustainability,” says President Mark Schlissel. “We are increasing the composting we are doing in our buildings, but it’s not enough. We need to reduce waste at campus events.”
The program was developed following recommendations to the president for making progress toward some of U-M’s 2025 sustainability goals in the areas of climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community engagement. It directly supports the goal to reduce the amount of waste sent to the landfill by 40 percent below 2006 levels by 2025.
Compostable waste includes all food waste, napkins and paper towels, compostable serve ware and utensils, coffee grounds and filters, as well as the green compost collection bags.
It also represents approximately one-third of the waste stream at the university, even in buildings without food service.
The program provides services ranging from support for one-time events to help establishing permanent composting collection service in buildings with food service or that frequently host events. OCS staff also educates the campus community on waste reduction best practices.
“We can provide support and guidance for identifying and locating compostable ware, menu ordering and making sure compost is properly collected and picked up for disposal,” says Anya Dale, sustainability representative with OCS.
One common mistake seen in composting is a misunderstanding in the difference between compostable and biodegradable materials.
Compostable products break down into a nutrient-rich material in a shorter timeframe and do not contain or release any metals or toxins into the environment. Biodegradable products are not compostable. They eventually break down into smaller components while leaving a residue in their return to nature.
Compost service is in place in more than 10 buildings on campus, including University Unions, The Stephen M. Ross School of Business, and the Mason, Tisch, Angell-Haven Hall complex, with plans to expand to additional buildings each semester.
“Even after we establish composting in a building, we continue to do a lot of outreach and training in the buildings to be even more efficient in our efforts to reduce waste,” Dale adds.
The Zero Waste Program is available to all units, departments and student groups on the Ann Arbor campus and supports the university’s unified commitment to sustainability, known as Planet Blue.